Brain eye

Don’t delay eye care for retinal detachments: Q&A with ophthalmologist Dr. Kenneth Eng

Dr. Eng

Dr. Kenneth Eng, chief of ophthalmology and vision sciences in the Hurvitz Brain Sciences Program at Sunnybrook talks about the importance of taking care of your eyes and why it is critical to seek treatment for retinal detachments.

Dr. Eng shares findings and insight from his study, the first to examine the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on patients with retinal detachments, recently published in the Canadian Journal of Ophthalmology.

Are patients delaying seeking treatment due to the pandemic?

Dr. Eng: Throughout the pandemic, individuals have been presenting late or delayed going to see their doctors with serious eye conditions.

In the early months of the pandemic, there was a drop in the number of patients coming in with retinal detachments. We learned through the study that this was due to the uncertainty around the coronavirus. Fear and anxiety around hospital visits led some patients to hold off on the medical treatment they needed.

The hospital is safe and has remained open to patients throughout the pandemic. In recent months more patients have been returning for routine examinations. If people have pre-existing conditions and they’re having difficulty, it’s best to reach out to their physician in the earliest stage and not put off receiving treatment.

Is a retinal detachment painful?

Dr. Eng: Typically with a retinal detachment, patients do not feel any pain. There aren’t visible signs, for example, redness around the eye.

Often what happens before it detaches, is that patients will see flashes of light in one or both eyes, or “floaters” which are tiny dark spots or specks that seem to float away when individuals try to look right at them.

It is important that patients contact their ophthalmologist when they notice new “flashing” or “floaters.” Their physician can determine if there is a tear or hole in the retina and help treat it before it leads to a full retinal detachment.

What can happen when treatment is delayed for retinal detachments?

Dr. Eng: Retinal detachment can lead to permanent vision loss if not treated in time.

When patients experience a detachment, they may feel like there’s a shadow or curtain or veil over their vision and it becomes more difficult to see things. Sometimes it grows over a few hours or over the course of several days, and it progresses until that shadow covers your central vision. When that happens, it can be an indicator that the central retina has detached.

Individuals can progress from being able to read and recognize faces to seeing next to nothing. Sometimes they’ll only see fingers in front of their face or movement at the sides, or even perhaps only light.

In general, the longer patients wait to seek treatment, the less they can recover.

Patients that come to us with a retinal detachment after many weeks or many months may never regain very useful vision in that eye.

The eye is not very forgiving. When you have a retinal detachment and that part is injured or damaged, it never recovers function like it used to. The retina can be reattached months or years later, but by then the damage is done.

What signs or symptoms should patients watch out for?

Dr. Eng: Patients will often see warning signs before a retinal detachment actually occurs.

Patients should pay close attention to the “flashes” and “floaters” mentioned earlier, blurred vision, or feeling like there is a curtain or shadow affecting your vision.

Delaying treatment for a retinal detachment can have serious implications in terms of how much vision you can recover, so it is best to reach out to your ophthalmologist at the onset of symptoms.


Read the full study: Impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on characteristics of retinal detachments: the Canadian experience

Learn more about Ophthalmology & Vision Sciences at Sunnybrook

About the author

Jennifer Palisoc

Jennifer Palisoc is a Communications Advisor at Sunnybrook.

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